Robust public areas are an important part of the infrastructure framework of a world-class city. In my vision for Atlanta, we will invest more in parks, ballfields, plazas, public art, community gardens, forested areas, sidewalks, paths and trails – all the places where Atlanta comes together.
When the Trust for Public Land released its 2017 ParkScore, which rates park infrastructure among America’s top cities, Atlanta was way down the list. Pathetically, we tied with Dallas for 50th place out of our country’s one hundred largest cities. We must do better.
We need to act fast because we are in a speculative real estate environment where our best opportunities for new parks will soon be locked out by development pressure. This includes both high-growth, high-density areas like Midtown and Buckhead and expansive, underserved areas like west and south Atlanta.
The good news is that people all over Atlanta are already laying the groundwork for this new commitment to improved public spaces. The Trust for Public Land is helping to create several new parks. The Foodwell Alliance is helping build community gardens and Trees Atlanta is planting trees all over the city, including a linear arboretum for the Atlanta BeltLine. Soccer in the Streets is connecting soccer training with mentoring and employment for underserved youth. King of Pops sponsors free public yoga classes that are getting people moving and meeting new friends at the same time. By partnering with groups such as these, and connecting them to resources and access to public facilities, we will create more room for recreation, sports, nature, and urban agriculture; more and healthier ways for moving across town; and more space for meeting friends, engaging the arts, and getting exercise.
When I started working with Ryan Gravel in 2001 to transform the Atlanta BeltLine from a beautiful idea to an achievable initiative, we worked with people in communities all over Atlanta to incorporate smart solutions for managing gentrification, housing affordability, new parks and transportation into the project vision. We need to take what we learned from that effort to ensure real community engagement and get back to achieving the goals made at the beginning of the project.
One of those lessons is improved connectivity. Completing the Atlanta BeltLine quickly is essential, along with connected projects like the Proctor Creek Greenway, PATH400, and trails along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek. The PATH Foundation continues to lead the way by building trails across our city and region. There is potential for grand new parks along the Chattahoochee riverfront and on Atlanta’s southside, and we can transform both the Atlanta Waterworks and Bellwood Quarry on the westside into world-class outdoor destinations.
We’ve proven that investment in public infrastructure makes good financial sense. So, I’ll commit, right now, that as Mayor, I’ll increase the parks and recreation budget by $3.3 million year over year for the first four years. That will guarantee a minimum budget of nearly $50 million – a number that was promised many years ago, but never fulfilled.
In the first 100 days of my Administration, I’ll convene a Task Force comprised of parks advocates, neighborhood representatives, philanthropic and corporate leaders to assess, cost and rank all of the great ideas for public realm projects that are struggling to find a path forward, while adding priorities that have not had sufficient attention – like how to make our public realm more accessible to seniors, children and people with disabilities, and how to increase and improve our recreation and fitness offerings throughout the city. By the end of the first year, we’ll have a priority list, a budget and a map for getting it done.
We’ll spend year two and three working with the Georgia General Assembly to pass and implement an appropriate funding solution to grow and maintain our system well into our grandchildren’s adult years. And I’ll work with the Task Force and city staff to do the blocking and tackling required to fund and build the parks and recreation system we deserve.
I won’t make many promises along the campaign trail. But to have a world-class city, we have to execute on a vision of integrated transportation systems, housing choices for everyone and a first-rate public realm. The parks and public spaces of the city must provide us the opportunity to meet, play, connect and dream in beautiful and interesting places in every corner of Atlanta. We can do these things now. I know because I’ve done it.